JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Washington County Commission voted unanimously to grant $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for a proposed meat processing facility Monday.

The vote is the latest hurdle to be cleared for a group of farmers working to increase local access to meat processing facilities.

The money will be paid to the non-profit Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council (ARC&D) which will share the funds with the Appalachian Producers Coalition, a group of farmers who will own and operate the plant.

Supply and demand

With the nearest large-scale processing facilities hundreds of miles away and long wait times to book animals for processing, East Tennessee farmers face massive logistical challenges in getting their meat to market.

“We’re having to schedule kill dates that are before a lot of animals even born,” said Mike Southerland, president of the Appalachian Producer’s Coalition.

The new plant will have the capacity to process up to 125 heads of cattle, pigs, or sheep a week, keeping livestock production close to home.

The homegrown production will also allow farmers to meet consumer demand for local meat which has been growing since the pandemic.

“I think it was a real scare when people went to the grocery store and there wasn’t any meat available,” Southerland said.

Susan McKinney, executive director of the ARC&D, told News Channel 11 that local meat processing facilities will help create a more sustainable food system in the region.

“It’s a great opportunity to have one more component of local food readily accessible to consumers,” McKinnney said.

Farming for the future

McKinney said that the plant will make a generational impact on farmers in the region, as the next generation considers whether to join their family farm or pursue another business.

“The average age of farmers right now in this region is about 58 years old,” McKinney said. “This will make a generational impact for those folks that are considering what to do next. Are they going to come alongside in the family farming business or are they going to do something else?”

“This gives it a positive impact to those folks that are considering that and preserves the natural landscape of our region as well.”

Southerland agrees, what’s good for the farmer is good for everyone.

“When the farmer does better, everybody he deals with does better. So it should be an economic boost for the whole area.”